Ancient Civilizations: The Israelites

Contributor: Suzanne Riordan. Lesson ID: 13076

An ancient people settled a land, left, returned, established a kingdom, saw it destroyed, rebuilt it, saw it destroyed again, and were scattered around the globe. How could their culture still exist?


World, World

learning style
personality style
Lion, Otter
Grade Level
Middle School (6-8)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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  • Do you attend a synagogue or celebrate Passover, or do you know someone who does?

You might not know that these practices are part of a culture with ancient roots.

In this lesson, you will learn what the ancient Israelites did that no civilization before them had ever done and how it could be the key to the survival of their people and culture until today.

The ancient Israelites were the first to believe in one, all-powerful God, while all the other ancient civilizations worshiped many gods.

Ancient Israel started with one man named Abraham. Around 1800 BC, he left his home in Ur, Mesopotamia. The Bible says that Abraham heard God calling him to leave his home and settle in the land of Canaan.

map of Canaan

Abraham's family eventually grew into a large tribe. They were very different from the other tribes of people around them. Besides worshiping only one God, they did not eat pork or use human beings as sacrifices to their God, as other Canaanites did.

Hebrew culture eventually spread throughout the land from the eastern hill country, where they first settled on the west coast. But there was always conflict between the believers in the one God (also called the Hebrews or the Jewish people) and those who wanted to continue to worship their old gods.

A great famine drove the Hebrews to Egypt to find food, and they stayed there for many years. They became slaves to the Egyptians but were able to break free around 1300 BC and return to Canaan, led by a great leader named Moses.

The Bible states that the Israelites also had to agree to follow God's laws. These laws were called the Ten Commandments and were very different from the law codes of other civilizations of the time.

They were not handed down from rulers to keep the lower classes in order but were rules that applied to everyone. Also, they dealt with a person's relationship to God and his neighbor.

The Israelites had to fight many battles against those who had settled in Canaan while they were gone. Another great military leader, Joshua, led them in these battles, and by 1100 BC, they had regained control of the land.

They divided the land among their tribes. The tribes were named after the 12 sons of Jacob, Abraham's grandson. (Jacob was also called Israel, so that's where the name comes from.)

12 tribes of Israel map

At this time, they didn't have a king but relied on leaders called judges to establish order and keep peace among the people. However, things were not always peaceful for the ancient Israelites because they were surrounded by other peoples who often attacked them, especially a tribe called the Philistines.

These people came from the Greek island of Crete. They had iron weapons, while the Hebrews only had bronze, so fighting them was difficult. (Iron is stronger than bronze.)

Because of these problems, the Israelites needed one king to unite them and lead them against their enemies. The first king was named Saul. He was not a great leader. He became jealous of a young man named David, a strong military leader who had won many battles.

David became the second king of Israel. He finally fought off the Philistines and built Jerusalem into a strong city, making it his capital.

The third king was David's son, Solomon. He built a magnificent temple, palaces, and forts and started a navy. But Solomon angered the people by imposing heavy taxes and making them work on all his building projects!

When Solomon died, the people hoped his son, Rehoboam, would lessen the taxes and forced labor, but he said he would increase them! Some of the people revolted and started their own kingdoms.

So, Israel was split into two kingdoms: Israel in the north and Judah in the south.

map of the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah

The Assyrians attacked and conquered the Israel kingdom in 722 BC.

The kingdom of Judah lasted longer, but it was captured by the Babylonians in 586 BC. The Babylonians not only conquered the country but also destroyed the temple and took the people back to Babylon as captives.

The Israelites were allowed to return to their country when the Persian kingdom overthrew the Babylonians. They rebuilt the temple and lived in peace for a while.

However, they were eventually invaded by Alexander the Great and later by the Romans; the second temple was also destroyed.

Despite being overtaken and scattered, the Jewish people were never ultimately defeated. Their language, culture, and religion have survived to this day!

Head to the Got It? section to label a map of ancient Israel and take a quiz on some of its essential people!

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